Novak Djokovic beat Dominic Thiem in five sets for the Australian Open in 2020. He’s likely to win the title again this year. Here’s why:
Djokovic has already contracted Covid-19 earlier last year. His ill-fated Adria Tour in the summer was meant to bring tennis back after the pandemic halted sporting events. But after Grigor Dimitrov arrived having tested positive, Djokovic and other players were infected with the disease. In a statement on Twitter, the Serbian said that he was “deeply sorry”, later confirming that he and his wife Jelena had Covid-19 and would isolate for 14 days. The body does possess some immunity after it has been infected.
Therefore, the likelihood of Djokovic catching Covid-19 and being affected enough to exit the tournament has been reduced, although due to the extremely low-level of transmission in Australia, this was already perhaps unlikely.
Djokovic’s best chance of winning a tournament is on a hard court. His winning record as of October 8th 2020 on the surface is an impressive 84.4% – more than any other player. Djokovic has also managed to secure 11 of his 18 grand slams on hard courts, and 48 of his 63 remaining titles. The court conditions suit Djokovic’s return-based game, leaving room to become aggressive later in the point. Djokovic is also able to slide extremely well on hard courts. This gives him a great defensive advantage, and can even hit winners far behind the baseline when under-attack from penetrating groundstrokes.
Djokovic has been in good form recently, setting himself up for an electric performance. He was tipped for success at the 2020 US Open as the number one seed, before an early exit after accidentally hitting a line umpire with a ball. The incident ended an impressive 24 match streak, including victories over top players like Rafael Nadal, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Roger Federer. Part of the reason for that was Djokovic’s more aggressive style of play.
His second serve has become faster and he is double faulting less. Even on clay at the Rome Masters (which he won) and the French Open, Djokovic was dictating more with his ground strokes, hitting with pace down the line. 2021 looks set to be a continuation of this more assertive style. Furthermore, whilst many players are quarantining for the Australian Open, Djokovic (among others) is under looser restrictions to practice.
He will also gain match experience in the Adelaide exhibition on January 29th, which will be good mental and physical preparation. In contrast, some players who are quarantining in Melbourne for the Australian Open cannot even go out to practice. This has raised questions whether the tournament can be a level playing field. Djokovic’s relative freedoms will certainly give him an advantage over players who cannot leave their rooms.
While any player in the draw could win the Australian Open, there are two players who will pose the biggest threat to a Djokovic title run – Nadal and Thiem. Luckily for Djokovic, he has a winning record against both. In head-to-head matches against Nadal, Djokovic leads 29-27. In the 2019 Australian Open final, Djokovic stunned Nadal in three sets with fast balls and devastating angles.
Djokovic stood close to the baseline and dictated early-on. With Thiem, Djokovic leads 7-5. During their 2020 Australian Open final clash, Djokovic was able to load his front leg for winners from the baseline and soak up any pressure from his opponent. The Serb knows how he can potentially defeat his two main rivals from recent experience.
Djokovic seemed almost unbeatable last year. His record at Australia, the numbers against his rivals and the practice conditions all increase his chances of victory for a ninth Australian Open title. It’s up to others to try and stop Djokovic making even more astonishing history down under.